Addi Rd, the heart at the heart of the community
By ALEC SMART
Addison Road Community (Addi Road), Australia’s largest non-profit community centre, is a multicultural collection of 43 organisations, ranging from theatre troupes, artists, gardeners, fair traders and a radio station, plus various social help charities and health services. 2204 magazine visited the former military camp to learn about the interesting groups on site.
Addi Rd volunteers working in the Food Pantry. Photo: Alec Smart
Based in a former Army barracks at 142 Addison Rd, the 3.6 hectare enclosed Addi Rd site was established in 1913 to train military conscripts, the Citizens Military Forces, which supplemented the regular army.
Thereafter the premises were used for military service during both world wars, followed by the Korean and Vietnam wars – the latter attracting public rallies against conscription, led by women from the Save Our Sons anti-war campaign.
In 1975 the Army withdrew from the Addison Rd barracks and the following year the Commonwealth Govt donated the premises for community purposes. Hundreds of volunteers worked to overhaul and renovate the dilapidated site and converted it into a multicultural community centre.
Seven original First World War buildings remain in use at the Heritage-listed site, among them converted soldiers’ quarters along the edges, the ‘stone shed’ ammunition store, and two drill halls at either end of the former parade ground.
Two venues are available for hire, the Gumbramorra Hall and the StirrUp Gallery, available year-round for film screenings, concerts, social events, workshops and exhibitions
Originally government-funded, Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO), an independent charity, now oversees the leases for the diverse Addi Rd tenants. .
Addi Rd tenants include: Radio Skidrow 88.9FM community radio; Fair Trade Emporium independent traders who work cooperatively retailing fairly traded, hand-crafted artisan-made gifts and products; Half Moon Yoga; the Hellenic Theatre that promotes theatrical arts with particular emphasis on Greek Theatre; Marrickville Community Native Plant Nursery; the Wirringa Baiya legal service for Aboriginal women and youths; Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club, a non-profit coalition of competitive and recreational bicycle riders; Maggie’s Rescue animal welfare charity; Arts About arts projects management; Aspect Autism Spectrum providing assistance for those on the spectrum and their families; and the Bush Music Club, Australia’s oldest folk music club.
The Food Pantry, which rescues healthy food destined for landfill sites (often close to use-by dates expiry) and retails it discounted to low-income people, is a low-cost supermarket operation run by ARCCO at Addi Rd. Since 2017 it has expanded from a shipping container to a mini store with fridges and freezers and is staffed by 25 volunteers. A cook book, featuring recipes contributed by users of the pantry, is about to be published.
During the 2019 Covid-19 lockdown across Sydney, in response to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, many people lost their jobs or faced severe financial hardship. As a result, the Food Pantry experienced a substantial surge in users.
Already providing groceries, fruit and vegetables to 500+ customers a week - primarily low-income and disadvantaged people - Rosanna Barbero, ARCCO CEO, revealed demand for their food-relief service accelerated over 30 per cent a day in the first weeks of the lockdown.
Soon they were catering to over 2000 people a week. This led to the creation and dispensing of emergency food hampers to the needy.
Craig Foster overseeing food distribution to the needy. Photo: Alec Smart
Craig Foster, TV presenter and former football analyst on SBS for The World Game, as well as a distinguished international-level soccer player (including four years in the Socceroos Australian national team), joined the emergency food relief program, packing and distributing food hampers.
Under the #PlayForLives campaign, Foster recruited fellow sports talents to assist in aid efforts that saw them helping pack the food hampers in Addi Rd’s Gumbramorra Hall before distributing them to the elderly and disadvantaged.
Foster, who is also a human rights ambassador for Amnesty International and a refugee advocate, told me at the time: “The campaign is about bringing social services and NGOs [non-governmental organisations] together with all the major sports organisations so we leave no one without.”
Although demand for essential food-aid has diminished as the coronavirus-ravaged economy slowly recovers, Addi Rd is developing a solar-powered kitchen and purchasing an electric-powered van in an effort to reduce costs and evolve to a carbon-neutral, zero-emissions program.
“Instead of food going to landfill sites,” Ms Barbero said, “we’ll pick it up in an e-car – that’s a fully electric-powered vehicle, not a hybrid, in fact only the third model made in Australia. Then the food is sorted here in our solar-powered pantry and sold at discount to the needy. Anything that gets left over will then be turned into meals in our solar-powered kitchen.
“We’re refurbishing a commercial kitchen,” Ms Barbero revealed, “that we want to make available to migrants, refugees, Indigenous groups, etc. We also want people to use the kitchen for cookery workshops where they can learn and teach international recipes to each other.”
Joanne Ryan, Partnerships Manager, told me, “This will provide an opportunity for Food Pantry customers to learn how to make tasty, nutritious meals using produce from the Food Pantry, and also from the community gardens on site. We also hope to be able to run bottling and pickling classes, using our excess fruit and vegetables so this doesn’t go to waste.”
Ms Barbero revealed that Addi Rd already oversees a breakfast program at Marrickville West Primary School. “Some children go to school without breakfast. We supply the school groceries for the canteen, and always make sure they include fresh fruit and vegetables.”
In Jan 2021, street signs declaring #RacismNotWelcome began appearing at key locations across Sydney’s Inner West. The Inner West Multicultural Network (IWMN), an independent network of government and non-government service providers and organisations in which Addi Road plays a leading role, provided funding for the replica street signs featuring distinctive white lettering on a red background.
Independent councillor Pauline Lockie, who is of Indonesian heritage, brought the motion before the Inner West Council in November 2020 to erect 50 around the Inner West Council area. Only one dissenter, the often contrary councillor Julie Passas, rejected the motion, arguing, "there is no racism in the inner west".
The #RacismNotWelcome campaign, fronted by former international footballer Craig Foster, was developed in response to a disturbing increase in racist attacks across Sydney’s inner west throughout 2020. The Asian-Australian Alliance released a report, titled ‘I am not a Virus’, linked to public perceptions of the Covid-19 pandemic, which documented 377 racist incidents between April and June 2020 in the inner west.
Ms Barbero hopes the campaign taken will be taken up by all 536 local government areas across Australia. “15 councils across NSW are adopting it,” she said, “and the NSW Upper House of Parliament have passed it too.” City of Sydney and Waverley councils have already responded enthusiastically and installed signs at key pedestrian junctions.
However, Cumberland City Council, which was deadlocked in a 7-7 vote on adopting the signs, saw Mayor Steve Christou cast his vote against the initiative. Mayor Christou later told The Guardian: “If those signs were to go up it would imply we had a racism problem in Cumberland…That is just wrong. Nobody condones it. You don’t need to put signs up to tell people how to behave."
Prior to the military’s 1913 purchase of the Addison Road site for an army barracks, and before suburban homes crept up to the boundary fence, a freshwater creek ran through the site (diverted underground by the military but still flowing beneath Addi Rd).
The creek, surrounded by tall ironbark and turpentine trees, flowed into the Gumbramorra swamp north of the Cooks River, in the valley between Marrickville and Sydenham. What was once a hunting ground for the Cadigal and Wangal Indigenous clans that inhabited the region, after British colonials settled, the forests were felled, the swamp drained, and the land cleared for use as dairy farmland, followed by market gardens.
During World War 1, Addison Road barracks was a recruitment centre for ANZACS heading to the Western Front, the decisive 650km stretch of killing grounds weaving through France and Belgium from Switzerland to the North Sea.
Between the two world wars the buildings were utilised for community dances and social events while military horses grazed and lived on site.
However, in WW2, the barracks were again deployed for war as a transit depot for military personnel, and, following that, the Korean and Vietnam wars saw drafted conscripts as well as enlisted soldiers accommodated on site, the latter attracting mass protests against conscription.
In 1976, after Addison Rd Community opened, the then-Immigration Minister AI Grassby described as ‘one small world in Australia’, referring to its multicultural focus. Thereafter Addi Rd was supported by the former Marrickville Council and received Federal funding for years until independent charity ARCCO took over what is now the largest and perhaps longest-running community centre in Australia.
Addison Road Community Organisation (Addi Rd)
A: 142 Addison Rd, Marrickville
Ph: 9569 7633